The Witches’ Village

One village over from Nalerigu, in the district seat of Gambaga, is a settlement officially known as the Presbyterian Outcast Women’s Home. Unofficially, it’s known as “the witches’ village.” The residents of the home are women from villages across the region who have been accused of witchcraft and turned out of their families. They are sent to Gambaga because local tradition holds that the chief of Gambaga has the ability to nullify powers of witchcraft within his village. When the women arrive, the chief sacrifices a chicken. The way the chicken falls on the ground determines the women’s guilt or innocence. If her chicken falls the wrong way, the woman is then sent to the Outcast Home.

At first I was a little confused about the juxtaposition of the chicken sacrifice with the home’s Presbyterian affiliation. Most Presbyterians I know don’t usually endorse animal slaughter as an effective means of justice. From what I can tell, the sacrifice has been around since before the Presbyterians began running the home. The Outcast Home just takes the women who are declared witches but doesn’t actually have anything to do with the sacrifice itself.

So, how are women accused of witchcraft? Often the accusations come from rival wives in polygamous marriages, perhaps the result of jealousy. Or the accused could have had an argument with someone who later became ill or even died. Occasionally a woman will admit that she tried to put “juju” on someone else, but most women deny any involvement with witchcraft.

The system is inherently unfair and sends the women to live in this camp without any real system of justice. The problem is that once a woman is accused of witchcraft, it’s no longer safe for her to remain at home. Others from her village and even her own family may try to harm her.

The ultimate goal of the witches’ village is to reintegrate the women into their home villages. Sometimes the women only stay for a few days. Sometimes they stay for decades. In the meantime, the women farm communal land for the chief of Gambaga in a kind of sharecropping arrangement, and the Outcast Home arranges practical training and income generation projects for the women. They learn how to make soap and charcoal, which they can then sell in market, thus raising money to support themselves at the home and learning a skill that they will be able to use upon returning to their own villages. Most recently, the women have learned jewelry design with Ghanaian beads. I got to take part in that training, so I’ll write more about that in my next post.

One Response to “The Witches’ Village”

  1. Mitzi Norris says:

    Megan, I had heard about this village but I did not know the part about the chicken sacrifice.